19 February 2013

How Rich are We?

It's a "fact" I've heard many times before, usually written/spoken to induce guilt in Christians about how materialistic and ungrateful we are.  It is, more or less, this: you think you are poor, but compared to the rest of the world, you are filthy rich, like "we are the 1%" rich.  

Now it's true that much of the world lives on very little, as in less than $1/day.  In India, we certainly saw extreme poverty, and where we lived, Chennai, a decent middle-class, pay-all-the-bills salary equates to roughly $300-400/month.  So, if you could take your American salary of, say, $4000/month and live in India, you would live like a king.

That said, you should feel really bad about making so much money and still struggling to make ends meet because, compared to the rest of the world, you are Bill Gates.  That's what they say.

But I've never really bought into (no pun intended) that line of thinking.

I would feel really fortunate/convicted/generous if I made $40,000/yr where the standard of living were $4800/yr.  But in America, it's not.  Consider a few examples:

  • College tuition: the cost of a Bible college education at OCC (where I attended and what is probably average) is approximately $7500 per semester (15 hours tuition @ $310 per hour, misc fees, books, double occupancy room, and meal ticket), or $60,000.  Now, at Lakeview Bible College, in Chennai (a place where I taught a couple of undergraduate classes, and a quality Bible college for sure), a similar degree will cost you about $500 per semester, or $4000 total.
  • Food: we could eat out every single meal in India at nice restaurants and spend less than $5 per meal for two people.  Try that in America!
  • Medical care: Here we go.  We didn't have health insurance the entire time we were overseas, because medical care was so cheap we didn't need it.  For example, one time Heidi spent 4 hours in an emergency room, receiving three IV solutions (saline and antibiotics), and a couple of prescriptions, and all of it cost less than $75.  Granted, I'm not sure I would want to go to that hospital for surgery or some life-saving treatment, but still.  And prescription drugs were about 1/20th of the price they are here.
So it's not an apples to apples comparison.  Even in the US, wealth is somewhat relative: $80,000/yr means two very different things to a person living in Martelle, IA, and a person living in New York City.  There are better ways to convict us of our materialism and to rouse compassion for the world's poorest people. 

06 February 2013

Am I really having this conversation?

Sometimes facebook doesn't do me any favors.  Make that most of the time.  One of the blessings and curses of fb is the fact that you can have discussions/debates with other thoughtful people.  I said you can, as in, it's possible, not necessarily likely.  Such is the case I've found myself in for the past four days.  I belong to a group on fb for ministers from the Restoration Movement (read: a typically very socially and theologically conservative group), and the goal of the group is to foster ideas, discussion, and sharing on any number of trends, practices, beliefs, etc., we encounter in our ministries.  On Sunday, one member put forth this post:
After all the recent Sanctity of Life celebrations let me toss out a question. Pro-Life is the only right choice. No questions about that WHATSOEVER. Let me give you a little bit of medical knowledge and then ask a question for consideration.

According to drs who treat infertility, only about 1 out of every 4 or 5 fertilized human embryos ever are able to implant themselves in the wall of their mothers uterus and continue to develop further. A certain percentage of those that do implant also do not develop correctly and are also naturally eliminated by the body. These are medical facts and not subject to debate.

The line I have often heard among those who are pro-life (like myself) is that "Life begins at conception." If that is literally true, then God must be killing 4 out of every 5 "babies" that are conceived, because most fertilized eggs never make it to gestation. Certainly God is sovereign and can do as He chooses, but I find this natural conclusion of the concept that "Life begins at CONCEPTION" to be unsettling.

So... we do NOT have a right to intentionally end life in the womb... no argument. But, does life REALLY begin at conception, or is this an argument from emotion or slogan? Given our medical understanding, do we need to adjust this concept?
 I have questions about the data (how do they know 4/5 of fertilized eggs never implant?), but even assuming it's true, I think the questions at the end are very disturbing and have tremendous implications as to how one ministers and teaches on this subject from the pulpit.

We're up to about 80 comments on this topic so far, spread out among 5-6 of us.  I'm surprised and saddened by the fact that others have been not only sympathetic to the questions, but also have been advocating such things as: a baby has no soul until she draws her first breath (because of some twisted understanding of Gen. 2 and Adam becoming a "living soul" after God breathed into his body), an embryo/zygote/fetus is only a potential human being (despite all evidence to the contrary), and that it is problematic to assume that aborted embryos go to Heaven because (gasp!) Heaven would then be filled with babies.

So it seems the main problem these guys have is that because of the fact that, according to the Christian pro-life position, the majority of conceptions die; therefore, it is problematic to think that Heaven is "filled" with undeveloped embryos or tiny babies.  Apart from a complete lack of thoughtful study of Scripture and application of logic, it's just stupid and wrong.  I mean, really?  Heaven's glory is tainted by the presence of human beings whose only crime was not living long enough?

I'm pretty sure God has thought about this in advance and has made necessary arrangements.  Maybe God will allow those babies to grow up in Heaven, until they reach the "age" at which we all will be in Heaven.  Maybe they'll enter Heaven fully formed; God is not bound to preserve embryos as such forever.  

Additionally, I'm truly horrified by the "logic" that states that a baby has no soul until he/she draws first breath outside the womb.  The only difference, the only difference between a newborn and a baby one minute from birth is location.  There is no ontological change that occurs in the baby during the trip from the uterus to the outside world, no reason whatsoever to believe that one minute before birth, the baby has no soul and is therefore not a human being made in God's image, and the next moment, the moment of the first breath, when bam! they are suddenly not just a living mass of cells, but a soul-indwelt human being.  John leapt in Elizabeth's womb when Mary (pregnant with Jesus) visited.  How would that be possible if neither John nor Jesus had a soul?  The same logic that applies to personhood applies to ensoulment: does the baby have a soul one minute after they are born?  What about one minute before that?  And one minute before that?  And one minute before that?  If the soul exits the body at death, isn't it reasonable to assume that the soul enters at life, which begins at conception? 

My brain can hardly keep from exploding.  This is a group of ministers!  What are they teaching the people at the churches they serve?